IBM hosts cyber security awareness day for girls

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Hugo van Zyl, enablement lead at IBM Security MEA.

Hugo van Zyl, enablement lead at IBM Security MEA.

As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, IBM, in partnership with student development organisation Heritage Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Camps, has introduced a programme for girls dedicated to raise awareness on cyber security.

According to IBM, the IBMCyberDay4Girls initiative is a one-day pilot programme aimed at addressing the gender gap in cyber security. IBM Security and Heritage STEM Camps recently partnered with several local primary schools to host around 40 girls in grades five to seven at the IBM research lab in Braamfontein Johannesburg.

The event hopes to foster future ambitions and provide insight on the infinite opportunities within the field of cyber security. Participants also learned about applying basic threat modelling to help anticipate and defend against hacking attempts of Internet-connected devices and systems, from IBM security leaders.

Hugo van Zyl, enablement lead at IBM Security MEA, says cyber security is not a popular career choice for females and worldwide there is a massive shortage of cyber security skills across industries.

“Our goal was to capture the imaginations of scholars by sharing information about future opportunities in the field of cyber security, and also to raise awareness on the common cyber security threats and social media hygiene.

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“The pupils played cyber security bingo games, password strength meters; they were also taught what to post and what not to post on social media, how to identify a phishing or spoofing e-mail, responding to cyber bullying etc. At the end of the day they walked away with more knowledge on cyber security,” explains Van Zyl.

The global initiative was introduced this year by IBM’s US headquarters in an effort to help address the gender gap in cyber security by offering encouragement and support to counteract the social and peer pressures that discourage many talented young women from pursuing their interests in STEM, according to IBM.

A study by Frost and Sullivan estimates that 1.5 million cyber security positions will be open and unfilled by 2020 and that women make up only 10% of the cyber workforce globally.

Sheldon Hand, security business unit leader at IMB cyber security, says IBM’s cyber security mission is to safeguard customers against the latest cyber attacks.

“Through the partnership with Heritage STEM Camps, IBM aims to highlight the need to tackle the increasingly complex cyber security incidents that we see today, through collaborative efforts. In order to do this we need innovative approaches from different people. Ultimately we want the girls who are maths and science students to consider and explore a career in cyber security as we really believe that how women think and how innovative they could be, can help us resolve some of the trending security challenges,” he points out.

The average cost of a data breach in a SA company, adds Hand, is around R32 million.

“It all boils down to local organisations not having enough skills and not having invested enough money to cyber security programmes,” concludes Hand.

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